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Half-Baked

Julie & Julia cooks up a bland-tasting dish

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Meryl Streep and Amy Adams may get top billing in Julie & Julia, but all the delectable food the pair whip up over the course of the film deserves at least equal billing. This movie is based on a book by Julie Powell, a real-life cubicle drone who decides to change her life by cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child's famous cookbook. Julie and Julia never meet, yet their stories crisscross, intersect and feed each other throughout the film, which opens with juxtaposing scenes of the women moving into their respective new homes (Julie in 2002 NYC, Julia in 1949 France).

Julie — played by Adams, less spunky and more puffy than usual — has a reputation for never finishing what she starts. So she sets a deadline for herself: one year to cook the entire content of Child's cookbook, posting blog entries about every dish she makes.

Meanwhile, Child (Streep, overstating) is an American living overseas with her State Department-employed husband. She begins taking cooking classes to keep busy. After being told by a bitchy teacher that she has no talent for cooking, she befriends a pair of Frenchwomen writing a cookbook.

Julie & Julia makes much of the similarities between the two women. Both were secretaries for government agencies. Both are married to supportive, food-loving men. Both have a weak spot for butter. And both have their tales told via correspondence that doubles as onscreen narration (Julie talks as she types her blog, just like in Sex and the City).

Julie's story is the more compelling one — she's approaching 30 and the only person in her group of friends who doesn't have a personal assistant. She refers to her blog as a "regimen," never cheating on the recipes, even when some of the more challenging ones push her toward meltdowns. On the other hand, Streep's over-the-top, comic portrayal (she nails Child's grating vocal tics) can't help but to recall Dan Aykroyd's famous bloody Saturday Night Live skit, which is shown here to either acknowledge or refute its influence.

Director and co-screenwriter Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail), a chick-flick vet who's never shied away from pouring on the glop, dispenses plenty of it in Julie & Julia. She goes for easy laughs about Child's passion for food (the Amazonian cook comes off more fatty than foodie) and cheap gags about prepping meals (Julia chops a truckload of onions, Julie battles some live lobsters).

Still, the dishes prepared, cooked and eaten onscreen are mouth-watering. It's easy to get lost in Julie and Julia's obsessions. Too bad Julie & Julia couldn't be more substantial, instead of serving us chick-flick leftovers with a side of cold ham.

mgallucci@clevescene.com

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